LOS ANGELES -- Of course, the primary hope is that this question remains, if not rhetorical, at least not forensic. The hope is that Hurricane Gustav doesn't prove the fragile repairs of the deeply defective levee and floodwall system in New Orleans have been repairs in name only, that the storm goes west, or east, that it peters out, or, most miraculously, that the repairs by the Army Corps of Engineers actually strengthened the system to a point where it can protect the city.
But one question does need to be raised now, before we know next week's outcome. After Katrina, the Corps wasted nine months in lying and refuting the findings of expert teams of engineers -- the Corps insisted the levees were over-topped, while the teams reported disturbing evidence of construction and design flaws. Finally, after denigrating the experts for months, calling them liars in the local press, the Corps issued its own report in June 2006, calling the system it had designed and constructed "a system in name only."
Most crucially, the Corps announced that the system would be repaired, up to the advertised level of the pre-K system, the so-called 100-year storm, by 2011.
Maybe somebody in Congress asked, in some hearing, why will this take six years? But nobody asked that question in public, nor the obvious followup: what's the city, and its citizens, supposed to do in the meantime, say, in 2008?
The old slogan, in engineering as in many other lines of work, is that you can have it good, fast, and cheap -- pick two out of three. Is money the reason New Orleans has to wait three more years before even the semblance of protection is in place? If so, what politician, Democratic or Republican, will speak up to suggest that that schedule needs to be accelerated, that good and fast has to replace good and cheap?
UPDATE: For those new to this subject, or for those who cling to misinformation about the 2005 disaster, here's a video that should be enlightening: